The Radar: Summer Exhibition Roundup
In a special installment of The Radar—a recurring feature in Ursula of uncommon cultural recommendations from across the world—we asked a group of several curators, writers and editors to tell us what shows have piqued their interest the most this season and why. Covering exhibitions from Hong Kong to Switzerland, Paris to Los Angeles, Milan to Philadelphia, their recommendations offer a sampling of the most exciting exhibitions to see wherever your summer holidays might take you—even if it’s not far from home.
Giorgia von Albertini
‘Kara Walker: A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs to Be,’ Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, 5 June – 26 September 2021
Surveying American history from slavery to Barack Obama’s presidency, the trailblazing artist Kara Walker has no patience for political correctness and does not propose a conciliatory view of the past, instead prodding the viewer to question established narratives and entrenched myths. In her first extensive solo exhibition in Switzerland, curated by Dr. Anita Haldemann, Walker presents more than 600 drawings from her personal archive, which she has closely guarded for the past 28 years. After seeing ‘Fons Americanus,’ a monumental sculptural allegory of the Black Atlantic in Tate’s Turbine Hall last year, I am beyond excited to see this substantial exhibition of Walker’s works on paper.
‘Matthew Angelo Harrison: Proto,’ Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, 4 June – 26 September 2021
At Kunsthalle Basel, Detroit-born artist Matthew Angelo Harrison is showcasing sculptures for which he encased wooden African effigies, ceremonial masks, as well as safety helmets and working gloves in polished blocks of transparent resin. Using industrial manufacturing techniques to transmute matter, Angelo Harrison explores ancestry, authenticity, and the relationship between African and African-American culture with stunning sculptural precision. Showcasing all new work, the artist’s first solo exhibition in Europe, curated by Elena Filipovic, is a must-see.
Matthew Angelo Harrison, Headdress, 2021 © Matthew Angelo Harrison. Installation view, ‘Matthew Angelo Harrison: Proto,’ Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, Switzerland, 2021. Courtesy Kunsthalle Basel. Photo: Philipp Hänger
Matthew Angelo Harrison, Reservoir Master (left) and Relic of Disruption I (right), 2021 © Matthew Angelo Harrison. Installation view, ‘Matthew Angelo Harrison: Proto,’ Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, Switzerland, 2021. Courtesy Kunsthalle Basel. Photo: Philipp Hänger
‘Carte Blanche’ to Anne Imhof, Natures Mortes,’ Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 22 May – 24 October 2021
After her consecration at the 2017 Venice Biennale, where her exhibition and performance ‘Faust’ was awarded the Golden Lion, Anne Imhof takes hold of the entirety of the Palais de Tokyo in a commission by Emma Lavigne and Vittoria Matarrese. Removing the building’s temporary scenography to reveal the raw concrete of its primary structure, and subsequently inserting a glass maze, Imhof has created all-embracing, polyphonic work. Fusing her own works with historical works by David Hammons, Eva Hesse, Mike Kelley, and many more, as well as those of accomplices such as Eliza Douglas, Imhof presents her own history of art within a matrix that becomes a total work of art.
‘Maurizio Cattelan: Breath Ghosts Blind,’ Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 15 July 2021 – 20 February 2022
A siting of a new work by the ultimate trickster of the contemporary art world, Maurizio Cattelan is, in my opinion, always an occasion. Cattelan is famously unprolific and this show promises to feature quite a number of these occasions. A hilariously high-minded press release promises both a ‘site-specific installation,’ as well as a series of new works that taken together can be experienced as ‘a series of acts dealing with existential concepts and issues such as the fragility of life, memory, (and)… the collective senses (sic) of loss.’ Indeed.
‘Kara Walker: A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs to Be,’ Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, 5 June – 26 September 2021
Walker is the quintessential American artist. Best known for her use of the American antebellum craft medium of silhouette paper cutting, her subject matter also springs from an uniquely American experience: slavery and its aftermath. Walker’s works tell antic and epic stories of both violent and strangely joyous miscegenation, mixing old-timey and contemporary imagery. This retrospective is the first for Walker since the collaboration between the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, more than a decade ago. I’m excited to see a European take on this material and am also relishing the visual bath of great draftsmanship that a Walker show always delivers.
‘Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation,’ Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA, 17 September – 30 December 2021
Jenkins is primarily a performance and video artist who was an active part of the Black Arts Movement in Los Angeles in the 1970s, often collaborating with artists like Senga Nengudi and David Hammons. This timely look at Jenkins’ contributions follows the magisterial Nengudi retrospective that is on view through the end of July at The Philadelphia Museum, and ‘You’ve Come a Long Way Baby: The Sapphire Show,’ a recreation of a pivotal Black Arts Movement exhibition on view at Ortuzar Projects in New York through 31 July. It also presages an exhibition focusing on the work of the filmmaker and impresario Linda Goode Bryant that will open at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2022.
‘Enunciated Life,’ California African American Museum, Los Angeles, 27 March – 15 August 2021
This is Taylor Renee Aldridge’s first exhibition as the new visual arts curator for CAAM, and it’s truly a stellar beginning. This group exhibition considers the Black Pentecostal tradition, in particular, breath, as a faculty of Black transference, reverie and, of course, life. Shikeith’s ‘Sermon for a Longing in Blue’ (2020), Ashton T. Crawley’s mixed media works ‘Dancing in One Spot (number 6)’ and ‘Dancing Number 8’ (both 2017), and JaTovia Gary’s ‘An Ecstatic Experience’ (2015) are four works that journey you through those vestiges of life and are dutiful anchors within the show.
‘Mothership: Voyage Into Afrofuturism,’ Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, 7 August 2021 – 27 February 2022
After a year-long delay, ‘Mothership’ is opening at the Oakland Museum of California. Curated by Rhonda Pagnozzi—I served as the consulting curator—the group exhibition is framed via black feminist theory/praxis and grapples with a range of visual, academic, and everyday acts of Black pleasure, critique, and liberation, with an overall focus on California. I’m excited to rest beneath the recreation of Parliament Funkadelic Mothership, to be enraptured by Rashaad Newsome’s collages and installation, and to view Sandra Bean’s family videos from 1930s and ’40s Oakland. These, and the entirety of the exhibition, continue the practice of collapsing time, medium, and aesthetics to forward that Black people are indeed in the future (and of our past) that Afrofuturism has consistently affirmed.
‘Aria Dean: Suite!,’ REDCAT, Los Angeles, 5 June – 24 October 2021
A powerful, newly commissioned work under the nascent tenure of João Ribas, this large and disorienting installation elegantly coalesces the artist’s intellectual rigor, writing chops, and capacity to transform ideas into experience through non-narrative philosophical sound bites (‘Do you know what lies at the bottom of the mainstream?’) and anthropomorphized kudzu plants choreographed in a haunting and ritualistic ‘Susperia’-summoning dance.
‘Mariah Garnett: A Heart of Opal Fire,’ Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles, 10 July – 7 August 2021
A new work by an indefatigably brilliant filmmaker at the beloved Commonwealth and Council space is enticing enough, but this new work also channels the artist’s great aunt’s unfinished opera, pulled from her diaries and manifested here by a cast of both human and AI performers. Described as a ‘freely perverse’ adaptation, the film (‘The Pow’r Of Life Is Love’) highlights the artist’s unique ability to utilize real histories, often personal and familial ones, to create uncanny, transcendent works. Starring soprano Breanna Sinclairé and Christopher Paul Craig.
‘July Screen’ series, Now Instant, Los Angeles, ongoing
The LA-based, artist-run art house theater shuttered its Northeast LA brick and mortar last year but continues to offer programs through a virtual screen space and a monthly series of compelling collaborations. July’s program features film/video presentations by a mélange of artists, collectives, gallery projects, and publishing endeavors (such as the new ‘November Magazine’).
‘The Going Away Present,’ Kristina Kite Gallery, Los Angeles, 24 July – 21 August 2021
‘The Going Away Present,’ organized by Kristina Kite and Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, is a group show, a zine, and a scent crafted as a going away gift to writer and educator Bruce Hailey, who is leaving Los Angeles after an influential 25-year residency. The project involves a long list of friends, former students, and collaborators—Dennis Cooper, Kelly Akashi, Trisha Donnelly, Hedi El Kholti, Wayne Koestenbaum, Mona Varichon and Laura Owens, to name a few—and reads as a tender letter to an inspiring figure and a testament to his imprint on the city.
‘Gabriela Ruiz: Grounding, Prevent from Flying,’ LaPau Gallery, Los Angeles, 10 July – 14 August 2021
‘Nazari Knibbe: Cahoots,’ Gattopardo, Los Angeles, 22 May – 1 August 2021
In its ever-changing landscape of new spaces, there is always an abundance of shows to list in LA. My two final recommendations are for new endeavors and their ambitious inaugural projects: Gabriela Ruiz’s immersive exhibition at the recently opened LaPau Gallery in K-Town and ‘Cahoots’ by duo Nazari Knibbe at Gattopardo in Cypress Park. The latter is a show of quirky plant-like sculptures, mostly sprouting out of the cement floor in a strip mall storefront, punctuated with stellar titles such as ‘church giggles’ and ‘standing quotes.’
Gabriela Ruiz, From Above, 2021 © Gabriela Ruiz. Courtesy the artist and LaPau Gallery. Photo: Penelope Luna
Installation view, ‘Nazari Knibbe: Cahoots,’ Gattopardo, Los Angeles CA, 2021. Courtesy Gattopardo. Photo: Chris Hanke
Elaine W. Ng
‘Carmen | Hong Kong,’ The Box, Freespace, Hong Kong, 30–31 July 2021
‘Carmen | Hong Kong’ is the latest interpretation of one of the world’s best-known operas. Since its premiere in 1875, Bizet’s ‘Carmen,’ a scandalous tale of doomed romance, has captivated audiences wherever it is performed. It is a favorite of mine, because it is much more than just a simple tragic love story. Composed in 19th-century France, the opera’s progressive themes examine gender, race and class, which remain relevant today, as numerous countries continue to struggle with the same issues 150 years later. Presented by Hong Kong’s More Than Musical, ‘Carmen | Hong Kong’ is directed by award-winning American Jennifer William and performed by an international and local cast that includes Korean tenor Bumjoo Lee and Japanese bass Hidenori Inoue. This novel, 90-minute multimedia adaptation is set in the distant future and centers around a Hong Kong heroine on an ‘unwavering pursuit of self-actualization.’ Triad mafiosi and racing jockeys enliven the production’s diverse cast of characters.
‘Mythologies: Surrealism and Beyond—Masterpieces from Centre Pompidou,’ Hong Kong Museum of Art, 21 May – 15 September 2021
In the age of COVID-19, most people in Hong Kong are reluctant to leave the Special Administrative Region. Not out of fear of catching the virus—especially since the vaccine rollout—but because of the potentially long quarantine upon return. For this reason, Hong Kong Museum of Art’s special exhibition “Mythologies: Surrealism and Beyond—Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou” is the way to travel—via the imagination—without having to board an airplane. Over 100 works from the influential European movement are on loan from the preeminent Paris museum. Giorgio de Chirico’s ‘Two Figures’ (ca. 1920), Max Ernst’s ‘Chimera’ (1928), Francis Picabia’s ‘The Adoration of the Calf’ (1941–42) and Rene Magritte’s ‘The Rape’ (1945) are among the many iconic canvases that rejected the rational in favor of the unconscious. Also included are early black and white photographs of nocturnal Paris by Brassaï and editions of ‘Minotaure,’ the Surrealist-focused periodical co-edited by movement pioneer André Breton and Pierre Mabille. The exhibition offers mind-bending paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and journals by some of the key participants in this early 20th-century European cultural movement, which shapes the course of art history to this day.
‘Ink City,’ Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 23 April – 1 August 2021
In East Asia, ink is as popular an artistic medium as conceptual art in other parts of the world. One might not know this because the medium is typically positioned in the stodgy framework of traditional Chinese brushwork. Tobias Berger and Katherine Don upend this narrow interpretation of ink with the exuberant group exhibition, ‘Ink City.’ Their selection of works—mostly by Hong Kong practitioners—is wonderfully expansive and includes artists’ books, installation, performance and video art. Looking well beyond the literati practice of depicting idyllic landscapes conceived for slow contemplation, most of the work reflects on what it means to live in the late 20th and early 21st century—from Luis Chan’s psychedelic figurative paintings of Hong Kong’s growing migrant population in the 1980s, to the tragi-comic explorations of gender and identity by Chengdu-born, Rotterdam-based Evelyn Taocheng Wang. Let’s hope this sparks a new trend of viewing ink art through a contemporary lens.
Giorgia von Albertini is a curator and writer based in Switzerland. Her most recent curatorial projects include ‘DREAM MACHINES: Salvatore Scarpitta and Panamarenko,’ Fundaziun Not Vital, Ardez and Tarasp (2019), ‘Not Vital: SCARCH,’ Hauser & Wirth Somerset (2020); ‘Seeing Touch,’ Hauser & Wirth St. Moritz (2020), and ‘Darrel Ellis,’ Fundaziun Not Vital, Ardez (2021). Her writings have appeared in numerous exhibition catalogues and monographs. She co-edited Not Vital: SCARCH (Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2020) and is the editor of an upcoming monograph about Mexican artist Martín Soto Climént (Mousse Publishing, 2021).
Laura Hoptman is the Executive Director of The Drawing Center in New York, a post she has held since 2018. She has been a curator of contemporary art and a leading participant in the international art conversation for three decades. She comes to the Drawing Center after eight years as a curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, an institution where she also began her career in the 1990s as a curator with a specialty in drawing. Among the dozens of exhibitions that Hoptman has curated include ‘David Hammons: Body Prints: 1968–1979,’ The Drawing Center (2021), ‘Drawing Now: Eight Propositions,’ a landmark exhibition of contemporary figurative drawing at MoMA (2002–03); retrospectives of the work of Yayoi Kusama, Isa Genzken, Henry Taylor, Bruce Conner, Kai Althoff, George Condo and Elizabeth Peyton, and the 54th Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh (2004).
Essence Harden is an independent curator and arts writer based in Los Angeles. Harden has curated exhibitions at California African American Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora, UTA Artist Space, amongst others. Their writing has appeared in Art 21, SSENSE, Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Cultured Magazine, and they have written catalog entries for ‘Prospect 5: Yesterday we said tomorrow,’ Palm Springs Art Museum, ‘Brave New Worlds: Explorations of Space,’ and other publications.
Lauren Mackler is a curator based in Los Angeles. In 2010, she founded Public Fiction. She is the co-curator of the 2020/21 Los Angeles biennial, ‘Made in LA 2020: a version,’ at the Hammer Museum and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
Elaine W. Ng is the editor of ‘ArtAsiaPacific,’ a 28-year old publication dedicated to contemporary art from Asia, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Ng currently sits on the advisory board of Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong, New Hall Art Collection at Cambridge University, and Alserkal Avenue in Dubai. Additionally, she lecturers on Asian modern and contemporary art, feminist art, and research methodology for the arts at Hong Kong Baptist University’s Academy of Visual Arts and is a board member of Asia Art Archive in America, where she serves as secretary.